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Full text of "Address of Senator Charles A. Culberson at the Iroquois Club Banquet, Chicago, April 13, 1904"

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APRIL 13, 1904 




Urf Collection 


Mr. Toastmaster and Gentlemen: 

From my State I bring you encouragement and good 
cheer. All is well in that Commonwealth, and we are 
watching with deep interest the efforts which are making 
for success in other sections of the Union. Among the 
agencies engaged in this work none surpass this club, and I 
congratulate you upon this brilliant function, which cannot 
fail to redound to your fame as a host and to the advance- 
ment of those fundamental principles of party faith to which 
we are all devoted. 

As the first Secretary of State under the Constitution, 
Thomas Jefferson laid the foundation of American diplo- 
macy. Although menaced by hostile environments and 
embarrassed by selfish considerations, he so conducted the 
first great diplomatic controversy as to maintain the public 
faith unsullied and establish an advanced standard of con- 
duct for all nations. On an occasion when the anniversary 
of the birth of this illustrious statesman and philosopher is 
celebrated, and in times when national honor is tarnished 
by political ambition and commercial greed, it is well to 
recall that there is an international morality which neither 
the importance of civic achievement nor the glamour of 
military conquest can obscure. 

In the progress of the world, among modern States, the 
rule of the sword has been tempered, if not abrogated, by the 
law of nations, that system of right and justice which should 
obtain between them. Of what this law consists, in all its 

ramifications, we need not now inquire, nor need we trace it 
from its origin to its present commanding proportions. It 
will suffice to say that it embraces the usages of civilized 
nations in international affairs, and its growth is the reflec- 
tion of their external and moral development. It is an 
obvious philosophic truth that States, like individuals, are 
moral persons, and there is no happier augury of a progress- 
ive civilization than that moral principles are recognized 
as distinct sources of international law. The consequences 
which follow disregard of these principles by States are 
manifestly and immeasurably graver than those which 
result from individual infractions. With the manifold vio- 
lations of positive law which they involve, comprehending 
in their sweep the great questions of neutrality, treaties and 
war, and the vast injury to States and countless thousands 
of their inhabitants, they often pass into the wider domain 
of morality, where the breach of national duty is so flagrant 
and redress so inadequate or impossible that it is cognizable 
alone in the forum of conscience and at the bar of an 
enlightened public opinion. 

For the first time in our history as a people, in a single 
transaction, by its recent conduct in Panama, the Federal 
Administration distinguished itself in shame by adding to 
multiplied offenses against law the grossest moral delin- 
quencies. To contempt of legal restraint which must chal- 
lenge the solicitude of all patriots, to breaches of neutrality, 
to violations of precedents and treaty obligations, and 
waging an unjust though bloodless war, it added other 
wrongs to a defenseless Republic and left other and more 
ineffaceable stains upon our national integrity and charac- 
ter. This incident throughout was marked not alone by 

repeated injustice, but by reproach and dishonor. The 
declaration of the Administration that it did not officially 
and publicly instigate the revolt, for that is the whole force 
of the denial, is fully accepted, and yet its conduct was 
tantamount to instigation and encouragement, and had 
that effect. What it failed to do officially and publicly was 
done personally and secretly. The friendly press and peri- 
odicals of the time abounded with inspired suggestion and 
advice of secession, and personal correspondence of the Ad- 
ministration encouraged editorial insistence upon revolution 
and immediate recognition. Foreign conspirators at Wash- 
ington became the confidants of the Government and ad- 
vised their confederates of the movements of the Navy with 
an accuracy and detail impossible except from foreknowl- 
edge. Upon the failure of the Senate of Colombia to ratify 
the canal treaty, the chairman of the Senate Committee on 
Foreign Relations (Mr. Cullom) was called to see the Presi- 
dent, and immediately after the interview the Senator gave 
to a great newspaper, in August, 1903, three months prior 
to the rebellion, this significant and remarkable statement, 
which was no doubt published throughout this continent 
and in Europe: 

" Well, we might make another treaty, not with Colombia, 
but with Panama." 

" But Panama is not a sovereign State, and is only a de- 
partment of Colombia." 

" Intimations have been made that there is great discon- 
tent on the Isthmus over the action of the Congress of the 
central government, and Panama might break away and 
set up a government which we could treat with," was the 

" Is the United States prepared to encourage such a schism 
in a South American Republic ? " 

" No, I suppose not, but this country wants to build that 
canal and build it now. It needs it for its own defense, and 
it is needed by the whole world. The treaty is blocked by 
a country that has been treated well by us, and there are 
very weighty considerations which make us feel that at all 
hazards this great work should be undertaken at the earliest 
possible minute." 

There is no mistaking the mere language of this paper. 
If the suggestion may be pardoned in this presence, it is the 
vernacular of the West and is redolent of the prairies of this 
great State. But whence the inspiration, whence the thought 
of conflict and revolution ? It would be gross misjudgment 
of character to suppose that this conception, which was an 
invitation to secede and a promise of recognition, was that of 
the distinguished but pacific Senator from Illinois, rather than 
of hirn whose very element is unrest and disorder, with 
whom arbitrary and despotic action is a passion, and to 
whom the tinsel and show and havoc of war are dearer than 
the sublimer glories of peace and civic righteousness. In 
the great legislative body where should reside the conserva- 
tive and independent forces of our institutions, an effort was 
made to secure full inquiry into the conspiracy which wan- 
tonly defloured Colombia of her fairest territory; but, in ad- 
dition to positive suppression of diplomatic correspondence, 
an investigation was refused by a partisan majority. Had 
this investigation been allowed and the intrigue exposed 
the determining factor in the fabricated rebellion would 
have been traced by public inquiry not only to the thresh- 
old, but into the very portals of the Administration. 

Having inspired the insurrection, it was natural, and com- 
ported with the peculiar honor which subsists even among 
vulgar and unpretentious plunderers, that the administra- 

tion should keep faith with its puppets and confederates to 
the end. In confusing and guilty haste it anticipated and 
discounted the time for the revolt. It magnified the num- 
ber and character of the insurgents, and officers of the gov- 
ernment connived at a subterfuge to deceive and corrupt 
the forces sent to crush the uprising. It denied the author- 
ity of Colombia to suppress the revolutionary movement 
both prior and subsequent to its culmination. It invaded 
its territory by land and sea to accomplish its dismember- 
ment upon the false pretense of preserving the freedom of 
transit across the Isthmus. It reversed the course of the 
Government for more than half a century and perverted 
the treaty of 1846 by proclaiming that the duty of main- 
taining free transit was primarily upon the United States, 
and that this mere easement was superior to the right of 
Colombia to sovereignty and self-preservation. Not content 
with these acts of illegality and turpitude, but seeking to 
give them the augmented force which attends success, and 
purposing to complete the spoliation, the Administration 
within two days recognized the mock government it alone 
created and upheld, and within two weeks, in the very 
midst of war, accepted a cession of the coveted territory 
from its allies and associates. Never before in our history 
has a revolutionary and seceding government been recog- 
nized without reference to what action might be taken by 
the parent State to enforce its authority over the revolting 
section. From Monroe to McKinley we presented the just 
and lofty example of insisting in such cases upon the " con- 
dition that recognition of independent statehood is not due 
to a revolted dependency until the danger of its being again 
subjugated by the parent State has entirely passed away." 


It was left to the present Administration, in the case of a 
republic which we were the first to welcome into the family 
of nations in 1823, to trample upon the wise precedents of 
eighty years, and in a spirit of cupidity to reverse the policy 
which made this Government the exemplar of the world. 

The specious defense of recognition by the President, in 
its last analysis, is founded upon the argument of kings, 
sometime called manifest destiny, impelled by the interests 
of collective civilization, which he properly characterized in 
his life of Benton as that which would " swallow up the 
land of all adjoining nations who were too weak to withstand 
us, a theory that forthwith obtained immense popularity 
among the statesmen of easy international morality." Inde- 
fensible and scandalous as others are, there is no phase of 
this lamentable affair from its inception to its close which is 
more dishonorable and more grossly perversive of moral 
rectitude than the breach of the treaty of 1846. By that 
treaty the United States guaranteed to Colombia against all 
foreign nations, including themselves, the territory of the 
Isthmus; yet, contrary to the broad spirit of this obligation, 
the Administration through a sham revolution has seized 
and appropriated the property. In consideration of the 
guaranty by the United States of the territory and neutrality 
of the Isthmus, Colombia guaranteed not only the freedom 
of transit across it, but other extensive and valuable rights 
and privileges wholly distinct from the Isthmus. If it be 
said in legal fiction that under present conditions the right 
of free transit comes from Panama, it remains true that the 
United States are holding Colombia to all other grants and 
privileges of the treaty when the consideration for them has 
absolutely failed. 

The contemplation of the course pursued by the Adminis- 
tration in this great emergency can bring neither satisfaction 
nor pride to an American citizen. Admitting the transcend- 
ent importance of the enterprise, it did not justify the 
ignoble means employed and they were not necessar}' to its 
final accomplishment. There was involved in the under- 
taking no vital principle of free government, no overmaster- 
ing consideration of patriotism, no magnanimous sacrifice 
for the elevation of mankind. The motive was selfish and 
mercenary, and the contest was between the ambition and 
avarice of the powerful and the rights and interests of the 
weak and helpless. It may be that the canal will be con- 
structed during this generation. It may be that in our day 
majestic ships flying the battle flag of a great people will tell 
of its strategic value, and that it will offer a passage for the 
commerce of the world. If such prophecies shall be ful- 
filled, our gratification in the achievement will be marred 
alone by the infamy of its origin, by the just condemnation 
of history, and by the imperishable truth that " with nations, 
as with men, the law of progress is the rule of right."